Daily Archives: November 12, 2014

Healthy public lands mean healthy economies

Commentary by David Dragoo

Roll Call

 

As the owner of a successful outdoor business, one of many such businesses in this country, I’ve become puzzled over how Congress debates public lands issues. Often the care for these resources is pitted up against “strong economies” and “more jobs”, implying support for one means denying the other. This is a false choice. Outdoor businesses show that healthy public lands create and sustain strong rural economies and viable jobs. As we pursue other economic activities like energy development on public lands we must make sure we balance those uses with the conservation of fish and wildlife habitat so that our outdoor economy will thrive.

We as sportsmen and sportswomen are the drivers of important industry. Hunting and fishing in America generated more than $90 billion in economic activity in 2011 and supported more than 1.5 million jobs, according to the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and National Shooting Sports Foundation. If we were to rank the industry as we rank other businesses, it would be 24th on the Fortune 500 list, ahead of companies such as Kroger and Costco.

Think about that for a moment.

It should be no surprise that when it comes to policy, our stake in public lands is second to none. After all, without access to healthy public lands, we don’t have an industry.

Each sportsman and woman spends an average of $2,407 per year. In 2011, 47.7 million people hunted or fished in America. That’s more than the population of California, Wyoming, North Dakota, Alaska, Montana, Idaho, New Mexico and Nevada combined (and the numbers are rising). In 2011, the number of hunters increased by 9 percent and anglers by 11 percent, demonstrating that the economic benefits of hunting and fishing will continue as long as our lands and waters remain healthy enough to support abundant fish and wildlife and quality outdoor experiences.

Moreover, public lands are a big part of the sporting and outdoor recreation economy. Fiscal 2010 saw more than 58 million visitors to lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, with a resulting benefit of $7.4 billion dollars to the economy. In 2012, national forest lands hosted 160 million visitors and generated $11 billion in recreation-related spending.

Public land use is a sustainable bedrock pillar of America, particularly for the small, rural communities where hunters and anglers visit as well as for businesses like ours that provide the equipment and services used by sportsmen and women. Yet, in the 113th Congress we’ve seen numerous attempts to undermine policies that ensure all aspects of the public land economy are strong.

For example, no fewer than three “jobs” bills attempted to do away with the Master Leasing Plans, a Bureau of Land Management policy to identify, up front, areas where public lands oil and gas development is appropriate along with places where fish and wildlife habitat needs to be conserved. In short, Master Leasing Plans are a way to prevent surprises and provide certainty for sportsmen, the outdoor industry and energy developers, but this policy been in the crosshairs of those who unfairly characterize the concept as being anti-jobs.

 

The future of 245 million acres of public land

By Eric Petlock

TRCP Blog

 

A lot of folks around the West are frustrated with federal land management agencies these days.

Our federal public lands are facing a lot of challenges, like catastrophic wildfires, the spread of noxious weeds like cheatgrass, public land grazing conflicts, conflicts over energy development, and the loss of key wildlife habitat. Agencies are running in circles trying to deal with these conflicts while making resource management decisions that will determine the future of multiple uses on our public lands. Simultaneously, agencies also must manage myriad lawsuits from multiple interests unhappy about the decisions being made. It seems the West is shrinking as more and more people are competing for our public land resources.

As sportsmen, we have our own list of priority public land policy issues: maintaining quality, unfragmented habitat; rehabilitating habitat that has been damaged; and improving existing habitat to make it more resilient and productive so that fish and wildlife can thrive. All of these are important aspects of public land management. We understand the need for development of our natural resources and recognize that economic vitality involves choices and compromise. But we also understand that in a world where high quality, undeveloped wild places are becoming scarcer, it is imperative that we work to identify and protect these public places through balanced management.

As federal agencies try to plan for the future, all these issues come into play. Blaming the agencies for everything wrong in the West is easy, but in reality agency decisions are usually the result of agency mandates – which can have controversial outcomes. Important to remember as well is that these policies and laws result from various interest groups working within the system to advance their particular interests. Often these groups are at odds with one another, and the agency is left to sort out the conflict and formulate a compromise, leaving both parties unhappy about the outcome.

Sportsmen must take action ‘early and often’

This might sound like a fatalist’s view, but to the contrary, the takeaway is that we all have a responsibility and a right to work within our democratic system to put forth our interests and values – and then see to it that these interests and values are implemented. Sportsmen are often conspicuously absent from agency decision making processes and sometimes fail to get involved until they are reacting to decisions that already have been made. Instead, we must get involved early and often.

Earlier this year, the federal Bureau of Land Management launched a new initiative to revamp its long term land use planning processes. Dubbed “Planning 2.0,” this initiative will comprise the most comprehensive overhauls of the BLM’s planning process in decades.

Recently, representatives from the TRCP and some of our partners attended meetings convened by the BLM in Denver, Colo., and Sacramento, Calif. These meetings began the process of gathering public input on Planning 2.0 and discussing how the BLM might make this process as effective as possible.

Altogether, the Denver and Sacramento meetings attracted close to 150 participants. In addition to representatives from a number of sportsmen’s organizations, the off highway vehicle community, other environmental and conservation organizations, state and local agencies, wild horse advocates and citizens at-large were represented. Each meeting lasted about four hours and included “breakout sessions” so that participants could discuss the goals set by the BLM for Planning 2.0

Some of the themes that emerged during the breakout sessions included the following:

Public involvement in the 2.0 process is a must – and should be maximized.

What is the definition of “landscape-level” planning? What is the BLM’s definition, and how will these boundaries be defined?

How will baseline data be gathered? How will “citizen science” or data gathered by citizen groups and other non-governmental organizations be compiled and used?

How can the BLM do a better job of enabling public engagement in the process?

Ultimately, some of the key takeaways comprised the following:

The BLM doesn’t have a clear definition of what defines a landscape, what elements would define boundaries, and how priorities would be set for various interests, e.g., wildlife, grazing, energy development.

The BLM must review what has and hasn’t worked with other agencies, particularly the U.S. Forest Service, with regard to public engagement and the process of gathering and integrating data and information provided by the public.

How will this new process improve the status quo regarding how politics impacts the process – and to what extent will powerful special interests such industry groups still be able to manipulate it to fit their agendas?

These meetings are just the beginning. Sportsmen and sportsmen’s interests must be at the table, working with other stakeholders to find common ground and resolving the conflicts that will inevitably arise. The TRCP and other partner groups will be providing input and advocating on behalf of sportsmen and wildlife conservation throughout this process. We hope this will lead to better policy – as well as conservation of some of our most important and valued Western public lands.

If future generations of Americans are going to enjoy our outdoor heritage, abundant wildlife and unspoiled landscapes, then we all have to get involved and make our voices heard. :

To learn more about Planning 2.0, visit the BLM websitehttp://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/planning/planning_overview/planning_2_0.html

Take action: Submit your comments to the BLM on the Planning 2.0 process.